INDIANAPOLIS -- On Tuesday, the Lakers are in Indianapolis, the site of the NFL Draft combine.
While the NBA’s pre-draft camp in Chicago isn’t until May, and its player draft won’t take place until June 26 in New York, forgive L.A. fans if they’re perhaps counting down to those events more than investing in the 26 games left on the team’s regular season schedule.
In the first of those remaining 26 games, the Lakers face the league-best Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where Indiana is 26-3. The Lakers beat the Pacers in Indiana last season. But things were a little different then. Dwight Howard racked up 20 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. Steve Nash chipped in 15 points and nine assists in perhaps his best game as a Laker and Metta World Peace (remember him?) added 19 points, seven rebounds and two steals.
Now Howard is in Houston, of course, and Nash, still sidelined with nerve irritation, isn’t walking through that door. In fact, the only active Lakers remaining from last year’s win in Indy are Robert Sacre (who played just three minutes in that game) and Jodie Meeks (who went 0-for-7 from the field).
Currently owners of the worst record in the Western Conference at 19-37, the Lakers are just behind Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Orlando and Boston in the “race” for the worst record in the NBA. And with 26 games left to play, a look at the schedule has essentially become a look ahead to how many games they might lose, and to where that total might put them in the upcoming draft.
Tuesday’s game against the Pacers is the first half of a back-to-back for L.A., followed by Wednesday in Memphis. It’s the first of a brutal string of seven back-to-backs the Lakers face to close out the season.
What’s more, 17 of the Lakers’ 26 remaining games come against teams with a .500 record or better, including three games against San Antonio (two on the road), two against Oklahoma City, two against the L.A. Clippers, two against Portland and one against Houston. Those last five are, you may have noticed, the top five teams in the Western Conference.
Mike D'Antoni and Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis have noticed.
"I came into work about two weeks ago and Kurt goes, 'You know who has the hardest schedule left?' I go, 'No. Who would that be?'," D'Antoni related after shootaround on Tuesday.
"'The Lakers,'" Rambis told him.
"'Oh good. That's good news,'" D'Antoni said sarcastically. "I guess it hasn't changed any."
There has been a lot of talk about “tanking” this season, an idea the Lakers organization has rejected at every turn. But beyond the injuries the team still faces, and the revolving door of players they have had to incorporate throughout the season, the quality of their opponents is the biggest reason wins will be difficult to come by down the stretch.
They may not be easy to watch, but the games left on the schedule may put the team in a decent position come draft night.